Yet while Crowley praised Hindu and Buddhist forms of meditation, yoga, and their corresponding methods of attainment of altered states of consciousness, and instructed his students to become proficient in all of these, he rejected many of the doctrines of Buddhism—as he had all previous manifestations of religion—as superceded by his own cultus. He had difficulty accepting the core concept of Buddhism, that all existence is
sorrow and that sorrow proceeds from attachment. Crowley embraced life in all its forms and could not bring himself to refrain from tasting every flavor it offered. In this he could claim to have transcended attachment by indulging in all forms of sensation, accepting none and rejecting all in the process. Yet Crowley’s approach to Buddhism—as it was to all previous forms of religion, spirituality and magic—was purely mechanical and pragmatic. The previous religions were viewed as possessing technologies that could be mastered, and not faiths to believe in. Certainly their theologies were rejected as obsolete and even dangerous. As his famous couplet states:
We place no reliance on virgin or pigeon Our method is science, our aim is religion.
Paradoxically, however, Crowley frequently refers to Asian religious concepts in his writings and indicates that he values what they represent. He speaks of samadhi, anatta, advaita, the chakras, Kundalini, lingam and yoni, and other Buddhist and Hindu concepts with approval. He strives to attain samadhi, for instance, and reprimands himself for clinging to attachment. One could be forgiven for seeing in Crowley’s diaries, his Confessions, and his letters a western man attempting to dominate eastern mystical practices. However, if this was all Crowley was—a New Age proto-hippie in search of enlightenment in the hashish parlors of Nepal or the yoga studios of midtown Manhattan—then we would not be interested in him. For Crowley, these Asian systems are just that: systems. Systems to be worked. Methods to be employed. For all his attraction to Asian ways of thought and culture—perhaps starting with his friendship with Alan Bennett, the Bhikhu Ananda Metteya and one of the first Englishmen to bring Buddhism to the United Kingdom—Crowley was still a western man. He did not take the vows of a Buddhist monk, as did his close friend Bennett. He did not work under a Hindu, Buddhist or Daoist teacher or guru. It was his mission to make these disparate forms of religious experience—Asian, European—work for him, become elements of his own philosophy. The “double-wanded” power that he wrote about so frequently could be construed as Crowley himself, uniting both Asian and European paths to God in a single system. This insistence on bringing together both hemispheres to produce a “syzygy”—to use the Valentinian
Gnostic term (see below)—is typical of Crowley’s mindset. Indeed, he even insists that Horus is really a twin: Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Hoor-par-kraat, Horus and Harpocrates, the Avenging Son and the Babe of Silence, respectively—as if unable (or simply unwilling) to commit entirely to a single identifiable entity.
The Aeon of Horus, then, is the Age of the Child. The child will try anything once, will test boundaries, will explore each sense to its fullest capacity. The infant does not believe: it has not yet reached that point where belief is necessary as a technique of avoiding confrontation with an unpleasant reality. The infant has no ideology to restrain it, to force it to choose one path over another. As Crowley himself writes in this regard:
The child is not merely a symbol of growth, but of complete moral independence and innocence. We may then expect the New Aeon to release mankind from its pretence of altruism, its obsession of fear and its consciousness of sin. It will possess no consciousness of the purpose of its own existence. It will not be possible to persuade it that it should submit to incomprehensible standards; it will suffer from spasms of transitory passion; it will be absurdly sensitive to pain and suffer from meaningless terror; it will be utterly conscienceless, cruel, helpless, affectionate and ambitious, without knowing why; it will be incapable of reason, yet at the same time intuitively aware of truth.15
But before we investigate the Aeon of Horus—and Frater Achad’s Aeon of Maat—in greater detail, we must first understand what an Aeon might be.
The usual meaning of the term is that of a period of time, usually a very long period of time, but the precise length varies from culture to culture, from context to context. It’s root comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “life” and is thus conceptually related to the Egyptian ankh.
In Gnosticism—the spiritual tradition embraced by many occultists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Europe and the Americas— the word aeon refers to an emanation (or characteristic) of God. Thus, the Gnostic aeons include such concepts as Arche (“the beginning”) and Proarche (“before the beginning”), among other designations, with their
associated references to Time. The term aeon can also be used to refer to the fullness of God perceived as an emanation itself.
Perhaps the closest in meaning and sense to Crowley’s use of the term is that of the Valentinians, an early (2nd century CE) Gnostic sect for whom the aeons were created in male/female pairs called syzygies of which there were fifteen,16 for a total of thirty aeons. It is important to realize that these aeons were emanations from God and therefore divine themselves, much in the way the Jewish mystics perceived the emanations that became the sephirot of the Tree of Life.
As they were emanations, their existence took place in Time. Until that process of emanation took place, God was silent and creation had not yet begun. (This is similar to the Indian tradition that the world was not created until Parvati seduced the otherwise monastic and celibate Shiva. In this view, God has to be urged to create.)
When the emanations began, Time also began. This may explain the relationship between the concept of Aeon as “emanation” and Aeon as “period of time.” They are linked, and one presumes the other. This is what we find in Crowley’s schema of the Aeon of Isis, proceeded by the Aeon of Osiris and then to the present-day Aeon of Horus. They reflect periods of time (similar to the precession of the equinoxes that has given us the “Age of Aquarius”) but they are also personified periods of time. They are periods in which the designated God or Emanation rules.
Specifically with Valentinianism, the Aeon known as Sophia (“wisdom”) caused creation as we know it to take place. Sophia is feminine, the youngest of all the Aeons. She wished to know the Father and went on a quest to find God. She may be thought of as an analogous figure to that of the Shekinah in Jewish mysticism: a feminine figure removed from the Source of creation who is then reunited with God in a mystical marriage. In the Valentinian version, she became “divided”17: one aspect of Sophia was caught down in the lower realms, in physical creation, separated from God. Another aspect—her original self— remained in the upper realms. The two aspects were separated by something called “the Limit,” which was a border between the fullness of God in the Pleroma and God’s creation in the material world. This Limit18 was personified by the Valentinian concept known as Horos, which some scholars believe is the Gnostic interpretation of the Egyptian god Horus:
the same Horus who figures so prominently in the Book of the Law. Interestingly, this concept was enshrined in the very origin of the Egyptian Horus, as described in the Coffin Texts and as explained by Mordechai Gilula in an article published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology:
Coffin Texts, Spell 148 narrates the birth of Horus. Having been delivered of her son, Isis addresses him in these words: B k s3. Hr hms r·k m t3 pn n t·k Ws r m rn·k pw n b k hr(y) znbw hwt ‘Imn-rn, “O falcon, my son Horus, dwell in this land of your father Osiris in this your name of Falcon who is on (or ‘aboveor’) the battlements of the mansion of Him-whose-name-is-hidden” (CT II, 221c-e). This is the actual naming of Horus who, until his birth, is referred to as B k (219b).19
What is striking about this information is that Horus at his birth is associated with “the battlements of the mansion”: i.e., he rests atop the border between the celestial and the earthly worlds, which is precisely what the Gnostic Horos represents: the Limit. In addition, the “mansion” referred to in the Coffin Text is that of “Him-whose-name-is-hidden,” in other words, the Hidden God—the Deus Absconditus or Amun—which is the title of one of Kenneth Grant’s studies of the Typhonian Current.20 This “limit” may be thought of in terms of Victor Turner’s concept of liminality21: a boundary between two modes or states of being, i.e. the sacred and the profane. In this sense, Horus represents a liminal figure, one who crosses over from one state to another and thus has some of the characteristics of an initiator.
Further, the figure of Isis is cognate with a number of other feminine deities who give birth without having been impregnated in the usual way. The husband of Isis—Osiris—had been slain by his brother Set and, according to one version of the legend, cut up into fourteen pieces.22 Isis went in search of those pieces and reassembled her murdered husband in order to impregnate herself and give birth to Horus. We recall that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was characterized as a virgin and the birth of Jesus a “virgin birth,” a parthenogenesis. Her Son became the intermediary between humanity and the invisible, hidden God, and was executed on a cross. The symbol for the Gnostic Horos was also a cross, identified astronomically as the place where the ecliptic and the zodiac meet. In the
Gnostic universe, the Aeon Sophia also attempted to give birth to a child parthenogenically, i.e., without benefit of intercourse.
In India—locus of much of Grant’s attention as well as considerable study by Crowley—we have another instance of creation having been the result of abnormal conception. Shiva is portrayed as a monastic living in the wild who spends most of his time in meditation. He is aroused by his wife, Uma (or sometimes Parvati), to engage in sexual intercourse. However, Shiva has enormous stamina and the couple engage in intercourse for millenia until the gods can take the sound of it no longer and distract Shiva so that he withdraws from Uma at the moment of ejaculation. Uma takes his seed—either in her mouth, or in her hand depending on the text—and impregnates herself with it, thus conceiving the created world.23 This sounds suspiciously similar to the way in which Isis conceived Horus except that in the Egyptian version the husband of Isis has been murdered, while in the Indian version, Shiva is still very much alive. Both Isis and Uma, however, give birth to sons who may be considered avengers, Uma/Parvati giving birth to Skanda,24 commander of the Devas in battle with the demon Taraka.
In India, where periods of time are inordinately huge, we are believed to be living in the yuga—or “age”—of Kali. This is a period of hundreds of thousands of years (according to some sources) which is said to have begun in the year 3102 BCE. It is the last of four yugas or ages: Satya yuga, Dvapara yuga, Treta yuga and Kali yuga. The Kali yuga is ruled by the demon Kali (not Kali the goddess), a symbol of strife and conflict, a fearsome creature sometimes depicted carrying a huge sword or other weapon.
Thus, even in India, an Aeon can be identified with a supernatural being. The names of the previous three yugas can be translated as Truth (Satya), Double (Dvapara), and Triple (Treta). These are designations that don’t appear to have specific deities attached to them by name, but the ages themselves do reflect the actions of various deities in the relevant Indian texts, such as the Mahabharata. In the Indian system, the chronological order of the yugas reflects a degeneration of the quality of spirituality, from the perfect age in Satya yuga to the increasingly vice-ridden ages of Dvapara and Treta, to the thoroughly corrupt Kali yuga: an age in which Lord Krishna has completely withdrawn himself from humanity. This is
paralleled in the Buddhist cosmological system of the kalpas, mentioned above.
Obviously, Crowley’s concept of the Aeons is slightly more optimistic and a lot simpler. There is no specific sense of an ongoing spiritual degradation or degeneration; there are, in fact, no clear moral judgments being made at all about the spiritual quality of each Aeon; only that the processes they represent are inevitable and inescapable. Although the Aeon of Horus is identified with warlike imagery, it also represents the flowering of individual freedom through the abandonment of ideas of sin and restriction. Rather than devolve from Aeon to Aeon, human potential is reawakened in different ways, leading to an ultimate perfection. Indeed, the concept of perfectibility—so crucial to understanding western alchemy with its processes of transformation—is central to Crowley’s initiatory scheme. It is the Aeon of Horus that provides the avenues through which the human population in general (rather than an elitist handful of adepts) attains this perfection. In this very important sense, Crowley’s philosophy is at odds with Asian ideas of kalpas and yugas. While Buddhism, for example, provides the techniques for a dedicated individual to attain nirvana and defeat the endless cycle of rebirth, it does not propose that all of humanity will—or can—do so at once, or during a single two-thousand- year period of time, but only through many millions of years with the assistance of Boddhisattvas: human beings who have attained all but the ultimate stage of complete enlightenment but who have taken a vow not to complete the initiatory path until all sentient beings have done so first. This type of self-sacrifice is presumably anathema in Thelema, a holdover from the previous Aeon of Osiris in which a god suffers for the sake of humanity.
Crowley’s scheme does reflect some controversial anthropological theories current at the time, however, proposing that there was a matriarchal society that preceded a patriarchal one. This concept was popularized in the early 20th century by such authors as Marija Gimbutas, Robert Graves, and by Margaret Murray in her influential—though heavily-criticized—works on the alleged European witchcraft cult, The God of the Witches and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, and even earlier by the Swiss anthropologist J. J. Bachofen in his Myth, Religion and Mother Right (1861). Thus, Crowley posits a matriarchal Aeon of Isis that precedes the more patriarchal Aeon of Osiris. This matriarchal-patriarchal
chronology has been largely discredited. It should be noted that there is no real historical precedent for this as an Egyptological scheme, and it does not appear in any standard works by archaeologists or other specialists in Egyptian history and religion. It comes, instead, directly from the Book of the Law.